The Looking Back feature in the new September/October NFPA Journal didn’t have to look back too far to highlight the Centralia, Pennsylvania, coal mine fire. It’s actually still burning today, after more than 50 years.
The fire started at the Centralia town dump in May 1962, where burning trash lit an exposed coal seam at the mouth of a mine. For several years, the residents of Centralia didn’t seem to mind the fire burning beneath them. Many no longer had to shovel snow; some could even grow tomatoes year-round in the warm ground. But the honeymoon ended when residents began passing out from toxic gases, when the main road dropped eight feet and that time a fracture in the earth almost swallowed a boy.
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